Frequently Asked Questions
We have included this section in our web page to provide Columbia Faculty and Staff with general information only. This information does not, however, substitute for real legal advice that can be obtained from talking to one of the attorneys in our office. If you are involved in any of the situations described in the FAQ section, you should not hesitate to contact our office.
- Who does the Office of the General Counsel represent?
- What type of legal services does the OGC provide?
- How can I contact the Office of the General Counsel?
- Where should process servers be directed to serve the University, University Schools, institutes, centers and the like with subpoenas, summonses, etc?
- Can I retain outside counsel for a University matter?
- I need to have something signed by the University? Who has authority to sign?
- Can the OGC represent or give legal advice to individual faculty members or students on non-University matters?
- Which lawyer at the OGC do I contact for my particular legal issue?
- Is what I tell you confidential?
- Am I indemnified if I am sued in connection with University business?
- I have been contacted by a third party and been asked to forward to them a copy of a student’s transcript and student file. Do I have the authority to access these files and forward them to a third party?
- Does the University ever consider using Alternate Dispute Resolution--mediation or arbitration--instead of going to court?
The Office of the General Counsel provides legal advice and representation to Columbia University. Columbia and all of its schools and departments are one legal entity. In that capacity, OGC attorneys advise the Trustees, Officers, Faculty, and Staff, all in their official capacities, on various issues impacting the University. To the extent different areas of the University have different viewpoints on any issue, the President, or if the situation requires, the University's Trustees have final authority.
The Office of the General Counsel is responsible for providing a full range of legal services to the University. OGC attorneys work in a variety of practice areas on campus. Some areas in which OGC attorneys can provide legal advice are: labor and employment, business matters, contract review, litigation, environmental, copyright, property acquisitions, student and faculty issues, entity tax, among others.
The Office of the General Counsel is located at 412 Low Library. We can be reached by phone at (212) 854-4974.
412 Low Memorial Library
No. Only the Office of the General Counsel can retain outside counsel. The OGC has a small group of outside counsel who have the relevant expertise in the legal problems we usually face. Only the OGC can submit legal bills to the Controller's Office for payment by the University. If you believe outside counsel is needed for a University matter, you should contact an attorney in the OGC who will determine whether outside counsel is necessary and appropriate; if so, the OGC attorney will retain an outside attorney that OGC believes is appropriate for the matter.
The President, Provost, Senior Executive Vice President and certain other senior officers are authorized to sign contracts on behalf of the University. Generally, this authority is limited to a specific area of responsibility. Please check with the senior manager in your area to determine who has the authority to sign the particular document you need executed. If he or she does not know, we can help determine the appropriate signatory.
No. The OGC represents the University, and the OGC works only on University-related matters.
On the OGC website, there is a list of 12 practice areas. Each practice area has at least two OGC lawyers assigned to it. For example, if your question relates to Development, Charitable Giving or Trusts and Estates, you should contact one of the three lawyers in this practice area. If your question does not fall within those groupings, you should contact the General Counsel who will assign the matter to the appropriate attorney.
It is privileged as to third parties, but not as to other University officials, but we will try to keep it confidential to the extent we can.
Generally, yes as long as you are acting in good faith and in the scope of your job.
Normally, no. While a school official, including a member of the faculty, may have access to and obtain a copy of a student's education record for a legitimate educational interest, ordinarily the student's education record is confidential and cannot be viewed, accessed, or released without the student's explicit permission. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, also known as the Buckley Amendment, is a Federal law that limits the disclosure of a student's education record in order to safeguard the privacy of such information.
In certain cases, mediation or arbitration, before the AAA or JAMS, may be appropriate. But, unless the contract stipulates that disputes will be resolved by mediation or arbitration, we would not be able to go to arbitration or mediation unless both sides agree. Arbitration or mediation may be considered in matters involving one or more of the following criteria: the need for a relatively speedy and binding decision, where confidentiality is important, commercially-related disputes, and where the dispute could best be resolved by expert.